Why Jerusalem is attracting heavy biomed attention

Burrill & Company is arguably the largest biotech investment fund in the world. The recent announcement of a new Israel-centric fund, which is to be based in Jerusalem, has caught the attention of many.

It is not just that the fund will be capitalised at over US$200 million. As one exec from a major American biotech company said this week on visiting Israel for the first time: “I just had no idea what existed out here.”.

Burrill has raised over US$1.4 billion in the past 14 years. Its teams reviews over 100 business plans in an average month, of which barely 1% make it through to investment stage. Today, the emphasis is on the 3P concept in medicine; personalised, predictive and preventative.

Yet for all that, why Jerusalem?

The answer was “revealed” last night at a meeting of the Jerusalem Business Networking Forum (JBNF). Graciously hosted by the Jerusalem municipality in the council chamber, participants heard from two keynote speakers; Mayor Nir Barkat and Jeffrey Miller, who is a special advisor to the Burrill fund.

Barkat was ably backed by other council members (Naomi Tsur and Yitzik Pindrus) and the biz dev teams of Chen Levin and Avi Salman from the Jerusalem Development Authority. As they explained, Jerusalem has barely 800,000 residents. Its main industry has often been tourism, already 44% in 2012 despite the European recession. This holy City most represents the geopolitical problems of the country.

And yet, it is the home of Teva, one of the largest manufacturer of generic drugs in the world. It boasts five leading academic campuses. There are over 130 known biotech companies in the region. Walk into the tiny labs of Hadassah and you can almost literally see IP being created before your eyes.

And that’s what Burrill himself has long recognised. As Miller was ably to tell his audience,  setting up the fund was a natural fit for Burrill. Simply look at Intel with its massive r&d plant in north Jerusalem and one can see what talent the city contains. While the politicians and the world media are focused on front page headlines, local citizens of all backgrounds are looking to change the world as I write.

It is almost 2,000 years since cartographers regularly placed Jerusalem at the centre of their maps. Maybe they were predicting something that the Burrills of our era have learnt to recognise. Who will be next to join them?

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